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Going Beyond the Basics with an Editor: When Copyediting Is Not Enough

Not to long ago, I received a dissertation proposal from a client who had paid for editing services from another editor. On the surface, the proposal looked good. The client had cited and summarized much of the pertinent literature related to her topic; the paragraphs were focused; the punctuation and grammar were in fine shape. Unfortunately, her and her editor had failed to address the fundamental flaws that had caused her dissertation mentor to reject the proposal after multiple edits. Namely, it made absolutely no methodological sense.

The purpose statement read more like a summary of research. The hypotheses were vaguely worded, and worse, technically meaningless. Her sample and populations were undefined, and she was testing only one variable, applying a statistical measure that, in order to work at all, demanded a minimum of two variables. In short, her proposal was a mess.

After having worked with many clients on their dissertations, I can safely say one of the most important skills an academic editor can have is the ability to help a client fix methodological and research design problems. Many editors are extremely capable of correcting a client’s mechanics, catching formatting errors, such as in-text citations and references, and helping with the style, logic, and organization of a student’s prose. Compared to problems involving methodology, however, these fixes tend to be relatively easy.

Usually the most complex aspects of any type of study are related to design and methodology. Using the analogy of a car, the methodology is the engine that makes the proposal, thesis, or dissertation move. It is the collection of parts that must be in sync for the study to work, for the student to move forward. Clients sometimes need someone who can fix more than paint jobs, someone who can go beyond cleaning up a client’s language at the sentence and paragraph level. Editors who go beyond the basics are more than copyeditors. They’re dissertation mechanics.

So when looking for a dissertation editor, ask yourself (or your mentor), does my project have issues that go beyond those of grammar, punctuation, formatting, and style? Is it suffering simply from the logic of my prose, or is does it have deeper logical flaws? Are those flaws related to how I am investigating or testing an idea? Do the key sections of my proposal make sense, particularly the purpose statement, research design, research questions, hypotheses, sample and population, limitations, and delimitations. What does my mentor say about these sections? If your project has major problems related to research design and methodology, it is probably time to look for an editor or dissertation coach who specializes in helping clients overcome these problems.